It’s the middle of National Library Week 2011, so I thought I’d post how important libraries have been and are in my own life.
The first library in my life was my elementary school library. When I started in first grade there, I was already reading thanks to a mom who encouraged reading in her little word-sponge son. Even though the school library was perhaps twenty feet wide and seventy feet long, to a six-year old it looked huge. But by the time I was in third grade, I had finished reading just about every book in the school library, some of them more than once.
Fortuitous timing saw the opening of a brand new public library in our neighborhood the summer between fourth and fifth grades when the John F. Kennedy Library opened its doors in July of 1965. Until this time, I had consumed the previously mentioned school library books, any and all books my mom would buy for me or let me buy (including comic books, a subscription to the Time-Life Science and Nature Library, Encyclopedia Brittanica and paperback novels from the local drugstore) as well as books on my mom’s own bookshelf (my dad, having left school after the eighth grade, was not much of a reader, comparatively speaking). But I had not yet been in a public library for, I think, two reasons. The first was that there was no public library in our area of town, at least that I can recall, and I believe that was why the new library was opened so close to us, so that there would be a library to serve that area’s citizens. The second was that, at that time, the library required you to be ten years old to have a library card. I turned ten just before the library opened.
If I remember correctly, my mom took me to the brand new library on a Saturday morning. What I DO remember, without any doubt, is the feelings that coursed through my heart and mind when we stepped into that two-story building for the first time. It was as if someone had created a place just for me! A place full of books! Books of all kinds! Two full floors in a building the size of half a city block and full of books!
Those books represented worlds, places, people and times that I could explore or escape to as I was reading them. They represented entertainment and education. They represented the opportunity to expand my mind through the words of others, and they represented ideas, beliefs and feelings that I could examine, investigate and absorb or discard as I determined,
They had a children’s section that held twice as many books as my school library, and that section was only a small corner portion of the entire building. The best part, though, was that with my mom’s signature on my library card, I could check out books from EVERY section of the library (with the exception, of course, of the reference section where books were not typically allowed to leave the building), which opened vast vistas for exploration that my school library could not offer, since its borders stopped at a sixth-grade level.
Through the 45 years since that first visit, I have held library cards in every community in which I have resided and have continuously taken advantage of the opportunities their contents and services offered. This week I’ll be visiting the public library in my new community, as I have already done several times since we arrived here almost a year ago. I hope you will visit yours as well.
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